Palin-Lieberman in '012

by Andrew Sprung

In his serial performances as spoiler first of the public option and now of Medicare expansion, Joe Lieberman has emerged as the Sarah Palin of the health care reform debate. He doesn't even try to credibly reconcile his current statements with past ones or to give explanations for his policy proposals that would withstand even momentary scrutiny.  He's just thumbing his nose at the very notion that informed debate can shape the legislative process.

Here's Lieberman's office "explaining" why he was for Medicare expansion before he was against it:

In a September interview with the Connecticut Post, Mr. Lieberman suggested giving people 55 and older "an option to buy into Medicare early" if they were laid off or couldn't otherwise get affordable coverage.

A Lieberman spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said that idea was superseded when the Senate Finance Committee passed a plan that would give the uninsured, including those over 55, subsidies to buy private insurance. Mr. Lieberman's "view is, essentially, that because we have subsidies, the Medicare buy-in would be redundant," Mr. Wittmann said.

There were subsidies for those who can't afford insurance in the three House bills and one Senate bill that passed out of committee over the summer. There were subsidies in the Baucus bill, the outline of which was clear when Lieberman made his proposal in September. There were subsidies for those who can't afford insurance in every Democratic proposal since John Edwards rolled out his plan in 2007. So come again, Senator?

Lieberman elaborated to the Daily Beast:

Senator Lieberman's comment reported by the Connecticut Post in September was made before the Finance Committee reported out the Baucus bill, which contained extensive health-insurance reforms, including a more narrow age rating for pricing health-insurance premiums and extensive affordability credits that would benefit this specific group of individuals. These health-insurance reforms and affordability credits have been strengthened in Senator Reid's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and will provide even greater relief for those 55-65 years old.

The Baucus bill allowed insurers to charge older plan members four times as much as younger customers. The Reid bill allows them to charge three times as much. The House bill, twice as much. Are we supposed to believe that in September Lieberman was so worried that the Baucus bill would leave 55-64 year-olds so high and dry (and would become law, unmediated by the four more generous bills then working their way through Congress) that it was necessary to mitigate its cruelties with a proposal he now calls a budget-buster?

All of this is in any case irrelevant to whether allowing Medicare access is a good idea. The rationale for that proposal, as for the public option, was to reduce costs both for individuals and for the government. If the Medicare option, once subsidies kick in, is cheaper than private insurance offered on the exchanges, it would succeed on both counts.  Lieberman claims that widening access would "threaten the solvency" of Medicare. Ezra Klein demolishes that argument -- which, if true, would have been true in September as well, when Lieberman floated his proposal.

One final  twist to Lieberman's illogic. Here's one more statement relayed by the AP:

Asked about the video [in which he proposed Medicare expansion] on Monday, Lieberman said his comments were made before the Senate health care bill, which includes health insurance subsidies, was finalized. The subsidies would make a Medicare buy-in program unnecessary because the people who could benefit would get subsidies instead, he said.

"This was before the Finance Committee came out with its proposal and I was suggesting various ideas for health care reform that did not involve the public option that was the focus at that time," Lieberman told reporters.

So...Lieberman only proposed Medicare expansion as an alternative to the public option that he feared the public option would make it into the Baucus bill. Now, three months later, when Democrats lack the votes to pass a bill with the public option and cast about for a substitute, Lieberman kills the substitute he floated in September.